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99 years later, officer’s service to be recognized

Robert D. Stewart

A Metropolitan District Commission police officer for 25 years, Jimmy Celino knew most everything about the dearly departed force known as the Met.

So when the history buff came across an old newspaper article about the funeral of park policeman Robert D. Stewart, who was thrown from his horse while on patrol in the Blue Hills, he knew something was not right. He knew of all the Mets who had died in the line of duty, even from the early 1900s, but he had not known about Stewart.

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Stewart, dead for almost a century, had been lost to history, his name absent from memorials to fallen officers.

“Once I saw the name, I knew,’’ he said. An expert rider, Stewart was just 35, the article said, when he died in 1913. He left a wife and seven young children.

In that moment, Celino, 72, vowed to make things right, to have Stewart’s service remembered. He enlisted the help of two of his former students at the police academy, Dave Benoit and Tom Dolan, and the three men worked to have Stewart’s name added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C.

At a candlelight vigil Sunday, his name, freshly engraved in marble, will be formally dedicated, 99 years after his death.

“You never want to forget someone’s sacrifice,’’ said Benoit, a former Met and retired State Police investigator. “You have to make sure everyone is properly recognized, so no one feels as if lives were lost in vain.’’

‘They said they didn’t want anyone to be forgotten. . . . I was just so moved.’

Donald Stewart Grandson of fallen Metropolitan officer
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As the three sought the honor, they began searching for Stewart’s kin. Benoit, now a private investigator who acknowledges he feels a “thrill for the hunt,’’ spent hour after hour on the search, combing through birth and death records as Celino searched newspaper archives.

Finally, he found a Falmouth man who appeared to be Stewart’s grandson. A call confirmed it, and left Donald Stewart touched by the officers’ sense of obligation.

“They said they didn’t want anyone to be forgotten,’’ said Stewart, 83. “I was just so moved by the effort they put in.’’

Donald Stewart grew up in Roslindale within view of his grandmother’s house. After her husband died, she somehow raised the children on his pension, just $16 a month.

“She was a remarkable woman,’’ Stewart said.

The children went to work at a young age, and Donald Stewart’s father moved to Nova Scotia to work on a relative’s farm.

In his mother’s later years, he visited every day and took care of her, Stewart recalled. “He was very devoted to her,’’ he said.

Stewart’s grandfather had been a Boston firefighter before becoming a policeman, he said. When he was thrown from the horse, he hit a stone wall. He was buried in his uniform.

At his funeral, 70 Metropolitan police officers escorted the body from his Roslindale home to Forest Hills Cemetery, according to the Globe article.

It called the service “perhaps the most remarkable funeral honors ever accorded’’ a Metropolitan officer.

The MDC police force merged with the State Police in the early 1990s.

Donald Stewart said he cannot attend Sunday’s ceremony, but looks forward to seeing his grandfather’s name added to the Massachusetts Law Enforcement Memorial at the State House this fall. “It means a great deal,’’ he said.

His grandmother, he said, would have particularly appreciated the recognition.

“She absolutely would have loved it,’’ he said.

For Benoit and the other men, Stewart’s joy made all the work worthwhile.

“That was our reward,’’ he said.

Also being honored Sunday is Ellen Engelhardt, a state trooper struck by a drunk driver in 2003. She died of her injuries last June. Engelhardt will be the first female Massachusetts state trooper added to the memorial.

The memorial in Washington D.C. features two long marble walls with the names of more than 19,000 officers killed in the line of duty, dating back to the first known death in 1791. Each spring, new names are added.

“It’s a tremendous personal satisfaction to see him honored after all these years,’’ said Tom Dolan, a State Police trooper who submitted the paperwork to have Stewart honored. “He was a Metropolitan police officer, and he deserves to be recognized.’’

Celino, a police officer in Washington, D.C., in the 1960s, used to walk through the park where the memorial now stands.

“At the time, it was just a shortcut,’’ he recalled with a chuckle.

Celino said he thinks about how hard things must have been on Stewart’s family and said he hopes the recognition honors their sacrifice, as well as his.

“Things slip through the cracks, and time goes on and people forget,’’ he said.

“But this was the right thing to do.’’

Peter Schworm can be reached at schworm@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globepete.
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